A Socio-Legal History of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers
Forthcoming in Alysia Blackham, Miriam Kullmann, and Ania Zbyszewska, eds., Theorizing Labour Law in a Changing World: Towards an Inclusive Labour Law (Oxford: Hart Publishing)
23 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2020
Date Written: July 1, 2019
This chapter provides a contextual account of how the CIW took action and why it succeeded, all the while foregrounding the role of law.The conventional wisdom is that state law offered farm workers in Florida no assistance, so the CIW devised a novel private solution (the corollary of this analysis is that we should no longer see state regulation as a terrain of struggle). There are reasons to be critical of this historiography (and the conclusion that it leads to) because we can never be entirely be free of law, even when some of the rules that we depend upon fail us. Appraising the CIW’s history shows that the law was heavily implicated in its rise because the CIW drew heavily on legal discourse and processes at various points. I argue that the CIW relied upon the law, broadly understood, in three main ways. First, as significant attention was being devoted to the problem of labour trafficking in the national and international arenas in the late 1990s, the CIW was able to intervene in public debates and suggest that the most durable solution was to be found in addressing deteriorating labour conditions on farms. Second, the CIW made use of public attention on trafficking to motivate fast food chains and supermarkets, which were wary of the material and reputational harm that was caused by being linked to human rights abuses in their supply chains, to take responsibility for farm working conditions. Third, the CIW contributed in several important ways to the federal government’s prosecution of crew leaders who engaged in labour trafficking, which conferred a measure of social prestige on the CIW and allowed it to convince other actors of its strategy. My approach in this chapter is to analyze key moments in the CIW’s history and ask: how were law and legal processes involved in the CIW’s strategy for achieving labor rights for farm workers? This question is a pertinent one because the risk of eliding the role of law in the CIW’s story is that it limits the full range of resources that other labour organizations, hoping to replicate the CIW’s success, may consider available.
Keywords: Sociolegal, Alt-labour, Trafficking, Farm Workers
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